27 February 2018

Underground

On The Northern Line
The London Underground - also known as The Tube - is an amazing phenomenon. It moves countless people around the city on a huge network of lines and stations. The organisation behind it all is quite phenomenal. Trains and track need maintenance. The correct people must be in position. There's security and cleaning to consider plus the collection and calculation of fares. It is an enormous operation that has taken a hundred and fifty years to evolve. I blogged about it last year - go here.

I have always been conscious of the subtle social dynamics that operate on tube journeys. You are surrounded by random strangers. They get on and they get off. Most people stay quiet, avoiding or ignoring any eye contact with other passengers. You are together but not together if you see what I mean. 

Some passengers wear earphones or fiddle around with their comforting mobile phones even though there is no connectivity in the tunnels. Some read books or newspapers.

You would never lean across to one of these total strangers and say things like - "I say, that's a jolly nice coat you are wearing!" or "Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" or "Excuse me could you help me out with this crossword clue?" No. You stay separate, protecting your own space, pretending to be oblivious to those around you.

Sometimes it is interesting to secretly observe them by cunningly referring to reflections in the glass .

On The Tube you find all manner of people from all over the world and in spite of the underground etiquette, every one of those passengers is different from the next. Their apparel will often reveal a lot about them and how they view themselves - from fashionistas to football fans, from city gents to bag ladies. We give so much away just by how we look.

On Saturday, Frances, Stewart, Shirley and I boarded yet another tube train. It wasn't crowded. I was last on with a newspaper in one hand and my camera in the other. 

The train lurched out of the station just as I was attempting to sit down. With no pole to hang onto I kind of lost my footing and sort of fell upon an attractive young woman who was sitting in the next seat reading a book in her personal space bubble. She was very nice about it and thankfully she wasn't totally squashed by the weight of my manly physique. Of course I apologised profusely. I mean, it probably wasn't what she was expecting - the infamous Yorkshire Pudding on top of her in full public view without so much as a "please" beforehand.

As we travelled south on The Northern Line, I realised that I missed a trick when I was a young man. Simply falling upon women in tube train carriages would have been a great way to hook up. No flowers, chocolates or nervous introductions. No dating apps or "Match.com" or romantic poems required. If I had only known I would have been faking tumbles all the time. It's a great way of breaking the ice - as long as she isn't knitting! The look on that young woman's face was priceless.

28 comments:

  1. I love the tube...but then , I don't travel on it twice a day

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    1. You are right...nor in rush hour on a Monday morning!

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  2. Lucky for you it was an attractive young woman!

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    1. Sue is correct - good aim! Perhaps you're not as far from your youth as you think.

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    2. Earlier we had seen a down and out bag lady. I am glad I didn't accidentally fall upon her... and Marty, that awkward stumble briefly made me feel closer to my grave rather than to my long lost youth.

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  3. There's also a real art of making sure the train stops with the doors in front of you while you are waiting on the platform. That - and sharp elbows - guarantees you a seat.

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    1. You sound like an expert ADDY! Should I also wear shoulder pads and a helmet?

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  4. My Grandson hates the tubes but then he travels for one and half hours each way every day across London.
    I'm glad you mentioned that your wife was with you or I might have thought you were trying to pull, as they say..
    Briony
    x

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    1. It's tricky to pull when one's wife is right next to one.

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  5. I don't know, YP -- I don't think that's the kind of first impression you'd want to make! The tube IS a marvel.

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    1. People might moan about The Tube when there are service disruptions but if they stood back to think about it they might also appreciate how utterly amazing it really is.

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  6. Well, brother, you started this post out great and then your testosterone got in the way. When I rode the subways of New York in my youth, I used to want to stop the train and just listen to the people on that one car tell me their stories. Everybody has a compelling story that makes them who they are, where they are going in life, or just something they can think about when they are going through some rough times. Everybody in the whole world. Wouldn't the stories of that one carload of people make an interesting book or ethnography?

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    1. That is a wonderful idea PT. You are right to suggest that we don't all just look different - we have different tales to tell. If handled properly it could make a delightful tapestry. I would call it "Random Lives".

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  7. As a young man when I had to spend time in London for my studies I spent quite a lot of time on The Tube. I can't say that I ever actively enjoyed it but it was a good way of getting about. The idea of using it regularly is totally anathema.

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    1. I bet you were falling on top of female passengers all the time Graham. Does it count as harassment?

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  8. I hate it when unfamiliarity with a place or situation makes me look clutzy! I AM clutzy, but I usually compensate well when I'm on familiar ground :)

    The Tube sounds like an interesting place to visit, but I wouldn't want to use it every day. The germs! The being underground! The masses of people! I'd rather take a bus, and for me that is really saying something.

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    1. how about "klutzy" rather than clutzy?

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    2. Well I have never heard the word "klutzy" before Jennyo! Just looked it up - A clumsy person. 2. A stupid person; a dolt. That cannot be you!

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  9. Yes, public transport is an amazing construct of organisation and logistics, and great when it works as it should do. Not so great when you have to use it to get to work every day and for your good money you get bad service, as is the case in the greater Stuttgart area.
    By the way I have been complimented for a handbag by a woman sitting opposit me - a complete stranger.

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    1. She must not have read the rules about public transport etiquette!

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  10. There's a lot of ice that needs to be broken. It's sad that if there was communication there could be so much to gain.

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    1. Happily chatting with total strangers would make underground journeys more fun - for a few days anyway!

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  11. I know two couples who met on trains so maybe it does actually work for hooking up! The falling over part is probably not so smooth though.....

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    1. ....especially if the falling over causes injury to the victim/target.

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  12. And, just think, if you had done such falling 40 or so years ago, only now, forty years later, you would be being charged with or accused of sexual assault/harassment!!

    Close shave, Yorkie!

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    1. But I am not a Catholic priest or a boy scout leader Lee!

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  13. I like to people-watch but realise people can people-watch me too so, I always feel very uncomfortable when in crowded areas, especially when seated directly opposite a row of strangers, as your photo demonstrates.
    Greetings Maria x

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    1. You should follow my example and wear a Fred Flintstone mask when travelling on underground trains Maria... well maybe you could get a Wilma mask.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.